RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian energy entrepreneur Eike Batista, who made the biggest leap up Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people this year, is anything but shy about his rapid ascent into the big billionaires club.
A half-German college dropout who for years struggled to emerge from the shadow of his well-known father, Batista has long said that he wants nothing less than to be Brazil’s and the world’s richest person.
He took a big leap to the grander goal on Wednesday when the Forbes list showed him bolting up to 8th place as his wealth more than tripled to $27 billion from a lowly 61st place last year. He is the only Brazilian in the top ten.
Everything about the 53 year old — from the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren sports car he keeps as decoration in his parlor to the “X” in the name of all his companies that represents wealth multiplication — screams of unashamed ambition in a country that often frowns on untethered capitalism.
Batista, who works in a beach-front Rio office, has become the business face of Brazil’s remarkable turnaround from basket case to economic powerhouse over the past decade and become one of the country’s best-known personalities along the way.
“He is the person that took most advantage of this Brazil that the world is discovering now,” said Francois Moreau, a former oil executive who works as an independent energy analyst in Rio.
A top-class speedboat racer who was married to a famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival queen, Batista recently dined with U.S. pop star Madonna in Rio and reportedly handed her a check over dinner for $7 million as a donation for her social projects.
“With my portfolio, I’ll be Brazil’s richest man next year,” he told Reuters in an interview in early 2008.
“I’m sorry — that’s just going happen.”
He proved right.
A $1 billion bet he took in 2007 on buying licenses to explore 21 offshore oil blocks has paid off handsomely, helping him to cruise through the global financial crisis as he added lucrative oil interests to his mining operations.
His bold move into the huge, newly discovered oil fields off Rio’s coastline paid off when he took oil exploration firm OGX public in June 2008, raising 6.71 billion reais ($3.8 billion) in Brazil’s biggest IPO at that time.
He is planning to take shipbuilding and oil services firm OSX public next week in an expected $5.6 billion offering, which would be Brazil’s second-biggest IPO and which may vault him into the top five wealthiest people.
Batista was born into wealth — his father was chief executive of Brazilian mining giant Vale — but from early on he was determined to make his own name as an adventurous businessman.
After spending most of his early life in Europe, Batista settled in Brazil in 1980 to start an independent gold mining and trading company in the Amazon, negotiating with wildcat gold diggers. He later joined Canadian mining company TVX Gold as a major stockholder.
Batista, who also had mining ventures in Russia and Chile, has said he owes the success of his business to following the basic rules of mining exploration that he learned as a young man digging for gold.
“In mining, you go to some crazy place, you set up a camp, you start looking for water and energy and this way you can build anything,” Batista said in the 2008 interview.
“That’s the mind-set. That’s my life. That’s how I learned to build things from zero.”
Executives at Brazil’s two leading companies — Vale and Petrobras, the national energy company — acknowledge that Batista has superb teams of geologists who came from their own ranks for both iron ore and oil.
But his ambition to become the world’s richest person could be held back by the sprawling nature of his business interests, which range from logistics to mines and energy.
“There is too much on his plate. Delivery, for me, is an issue,” said Moreau. “But clearly he is capable of hiring top-caliber guys.”
Batista says that a desire to emerge from his father’s shadow has driven much of his ambition. He also has a burning ambition to transform Rio into a modern, thriving city that his two young sons, Olin and Thor, will want to live in.
He bought one of the city’s most famous old hotels and is spending millions of dollars to modernize it. And just before Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games last year, he bought up a nearby marina that will be a hub of the games — another example of his eye for a well timed deal.
Editing by Steve Orlofsky